At 84, he is one of nine pioneers thought to still be alive out of an original 86, all of them men. He walks with a cane and wears a hearing aid that crackles and chirps with static now and then. And this year he has become a focal point for celebrations commemorating the 60th anniversary of Portuguese immigration to Canada.
On June 2, a small group of friends opened a museum at St. Clair and Oakwood full of artifacts like razors, watches and radios used by the pioneers. (The museum had previously been at College and Crawford but had to move for lack of space.)"They're my heroes. They're the founders of my community," said Bernardete Gouveia, the museum's secretary. In May, the Portuguese consulate in Toronto helped organize a photo exhibit in the atrium of city hall to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Saturnia's passage. "We can look to those pioneers as an example of tenacity, of strong will, and commitment within their country," said Julio Vilela, the consul general of Portugal in Toronto.
Before 1953, there was a tiny number of Portuguese in Canada - between 1946 and 1952, just 680 Portuguese people immigrated here. Over the next eight years, after the Saturnia opened the floodgates, that number jumped to almost 22,000.Today, more than 400,000 people living in Canada identify as Portuguese.Manuel Arruda was one of the first. He was born on Feb. 17, 1929, and grew up in the tiny village of Bretanha on the Azorean island of Sao Miguel. By 24, he was chafing at island life. He had been dating a girl named Odilia for five years and couldn't see a future for them on Sao Miguel. "I said, ‘How I'm gonna get married, how I'm gonna buy a house?' "
In March 1953, Arruda heard Canada was looking for immigration candidates. He saw getting one of the positions as "a lottery ticket," he told Domingos Marques and João Medeiros for a 1980 book on Portuguese immigration. At the immigration office in Sao Miguel, he passed an oral and written Portuguese language exam, and earned the right to sail to Lisbon for a physical - the jackpot.e passed, and boarded the Saturnia, a huge Italian vessel that had been used as a troop ship during Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, and then as a floating U.S. military hospital during the Second World War.This trip was more festive. The ship set sail on May 8, full of Italian women who liked to dance.
But after five temperate days at sea, the Saturnia arrived in Halifax and Arruda had to confront the vagaries of Canadian weather."It was cold in May!" he says. Sixty years later, the shock of it still registers in his voice.
In pre-multicultural Canada, Arruda's reception was sometimes frigid, too. From Montreal, where immigrants were processed, he was sent to a farm outside the city, where working conditions were brutal and he was paid just $55 a month."They were killing me," Arruda says. "There wasn't enough food. Sometimes we worked 16 hours a day . . . I cried a lot."
Arruda then cycled through a series of hard, manual jobs, preparing fish and horse meat for mink farmers in Galt (now Cambridge) and mopping floors at a Catholic high school in Toronto. While he was in Galt, he received a visit from his uncle who lived in Massachusetts and brought with him an English-Portuguese phrase book called English as You Speak It. Arruda was a blank slate. "I didn't know what ‘yes' meant," he says. But he practised hard, speaking and writing the new language all day until the four o'clock fish freezing. "I forced myself," Arruda says. He's fluent now, even eloquent. In 1956, he got half of his Canadian dream, when he returned to Sao Miguel and married Odilia. Neither had to change their name. "She was Arruda before," he says. "We were second cousins!"
They moved back to Toronto and within a few years scrounged enough money to buy a house in what is now Little Portugal but was then uncharted territory for Portuguese immigrants. The narrow brick semi-detached on Lakeview Ave. cost $12,500 at the time. He says he would now get a million for it. Arruda's new address put him in walking distance from his job at the Neilson chocolate factory on Gladstone Ave. - it's now owned by Cadbury - where he operated a machine that made chocolate bars stuffed with cream and cherries. He worked there for 33 years. The Arrudas have six children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Eventually, all 11 of his siblings immigrated to Canada from Sao Miguel, as did his mother. "It's a big family," he says proudly, walking through his living room, a gallery of first communions and graduations. Age has not neglected to take a toll on Arruda. He had his driver's licence revoked recently, after a dizzy spell. The winemaking equipment in his basement lies dormant. One of his sons tends the backyard garden of tomatoes, cucumbers and roses.
Still, he has had a good life, he says. With a laugh he points to the sky: "Now I'm waiting for the second immigration."
Posted with permission from Toronto Star
Canadian Immigrant, aqui.